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From contentious to collaborative

Have you ever worked in
a freewheeling and competent team
of dedicated individuals
where trust is taken for granted,
roles are fluid yet well understood,
and authority is delegated according to ability?

Rodney Napier from a management consulting firm specializing in change management says few people have experienced that kind of teamwork. He says you’re lucky if you’ve had that experience.

I count myself lucky.
I work part time for eXtension, a collaboration of 74 land-grant universities. I offer suggestions, get involved in debates, volunteer to do extra tasks and have become an evangelist. Everyone’s ideas are valued. Goals are set and available to all, as are meeting notes and works in progress. Everyone has information. The energy and enthusiasm buzz because we see many working across the country. We are more creative than one person or a small management team. By combining knowledge and resources, we can get work done at a very fast pace. We are never afraid to borrow ideas and resources from other organizations and companies. I’ve seen no competition among people, no inflated egos but rather people who acknowledge they don’t have all the answers. People listen to one another …….. a lot.

More of how collaboration looks
The communication is rampant—via conference calls, email, chat, Web conferencing, wikis and once in a while, in person. The people I work most closely with are in California, North Carolina and Nebraska so there’s no magic created because we’re in close physical proximity.
The ongoing work is on wikis that people can read, edit and comment on. The work is out in the open. It’s group think.
Napier writes, “Talented knowledge workers challenge the most skilled leaders.
The potential is huge for providing creativity, support, motivation, skilled inquiry and problem solving.
The group, when well trained, can stimulate, challenge, and synthesize beyond the capability of the most highly trained and intelligent individual.”

Academe is not the easiest environment to work like this
Napier writes, “While collaboration is sometimes encouraged, independence and secrecy permeate many scientific and academic communities. While the concept of collegiality is intellectually valued, individuals, project teams or departments seldom seek to collaborate. Even within a department, the isolation of the laboratory or computer terminal only reinforces the isolation of individuals and the lack of interdependence. Many technical environments are predicated on a premise of individuality, selfless dedication to original thinking, and competition. They provide environments that are quite often antithetical to team thinking and functioning.”

To be continued in the next post: tips to move to collaboration

Resource for this post:
High Performance, High Courage Teams
http://www.courageinstitute.org/articles/articles_03.asp?03

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